It’s Time For a ‘Queen Of The Damned’ Renaissance

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Queen Of The Damned Aaliyah as Akasha

I love that many maligned properties are having a second life and receiving renewed adoration.  Queer women have reclaimed Jennifer’s Body, The Mummy is getting proper love, and I’ve even seen some articles about how the Milla Jovovich Resident Evil movies have cultural importance.  The one that’s perhaps had the biggest second wave of life, made most clear because there’s friggin’ merch at Hot Topic, is Twilight.  I’ve seen the word ‘renaissance’ used which…okay, sure.

While I do genuinely love that five-film saga of Twitchy Celesbian, Shiny Cold Dick, and their creepy mormon inspired relationship—I put them on to fall asleep, sue me—I would like to make the case that the wrong 2000s vampire movie was given a ‘renaissance.’ I am here as a lifetime listener of nu-metal and a reformed mallgoth to preach the word of our sainted Queen Akasha and her low-rise-leather-pants-wearing pet twink Lestat. I am here to write in praise of Queen of the Damned. 

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To make a key distinction: I’m not talking about ‘cult’ films, something like The Room or Troll 2 that is empirically atrocious but forms a following around it because of its absurd fun. We aren’t here for millennial irony, sweetie.  I am referring to movies that were both critical failures on release, and got you dirty looks from self-proclaimed cinephiles in the ensuing years (personally, I like telling the rambling film bro that Catherine Hardwick could have made Clockwork Orange but Stanley Kubrick couldn’t have made Twilightand just watching the meltdown). I’m writing about movies that perhaps a particular demographic has clung to and cherished, whose devotees fly in the face of what objectively constitutes “good,” despite poorly aged moments. Is that particular demographic maybe probably the alphabet mafia?  Who’s to say? Me, I’m to say, and the answer is yes.  

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Movies like the aforementioned examples derive a lot of their adoration from nostalgia, and my sincere unironic fawning of Queen of the Damnedis foundationally no different. I was 15, dressed only in black thrifted clothes and Hot Topic gear, reading Anne Rice and Tanith Lee in the corner of the lunchroom, drawing terrible fan art of Vampire Hunter D, and tinkering with my blossoming gender nonconformity and queerness.

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Somehow, I managed to find the only bisexual goth in our tiny evangelical town who thought I was neat enough to be weirdo vampire girlfriends together (in hindsight, it would make for a cute sapphic YA). Naturally, when Queen of the Damnedcame out, we made this thing our entire dang personality. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if it wasn’t for smeared-black lipstick make-outs to the soundtrack on repeat in the Walmart parking lot on school nights. Ah, youth!

And if I’m going to go into why Queen of the Damned actually kicks ass, more so than many of the other revived movies of the era, I’d be so remiss not to just drool over that soundtrack, which has to be one of the best for a movie of any kind.  What other movies come to mind that feature an of-the-moment musician writing an entire fake band’s collection of hit singles (Jonathan Davis of Korn, cementing this perhaps as THEE nu-metal movie), then getting other of-the-moment singers to hop on board: Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Jay Gordon of Orgy, Wayne Static of Static-X, and David Draiman of Disturbed (ooo-wah-ah-ah-ah). Tell me that isn’t as delicious as a goblet of fresh blood. My one complaint is that I wish that POS Marilyn Manson was axed and they featured MORE WOMEN! What, was Kittie not available? Evanescence?  

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Unlike other movies of my adolescence, this time capsule of early 2000s subculture has stayed with me. In fact, I’ve never lost the DVD despite every possession purge I do when moving. When first seeing it, being a weird kid with few friends who really sharing my interests, it was cool to have a movie that had all the freaks and weirdos as not only the heroes/anti-heroes, but as every single character—and very specifically weird in the way that I was aesthetically, musically, etc.  The goth weirdos fuck in this movie; they’re popular.

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The way they are misunderstood is more of a sultry mysteriousness rather than a confusing deterrent. It’s why we all gravitated to things like X-Men, especially as queer kids in the 90s/2000s. We craved connection with people like us. We wanted to feel powerful, too. Queen of the Damnedsays “Hey goth freak, not only can you become the hottest rockstar on the planet, but you can also rule it.” Do you know how many baby gays in my circle all went through the wanting to be a vampire phase? Hell some of us are still in it.  

It’s worth noting that Anne Rice hated Queen of the Damned. And rightfully so. They changed her source material so much that the original two books upon which it’s based (two-thirds of the Queen of the Damned film is actually her book The Vampire Lestat) seem like distant inspirations at best. Humorously, they tried erasing the well-known homoeroticism of Rice’s characters, turning Lestat into a womanizing diet Erik Draven as opposed to the effete daddy he rightfully is.

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But, as many “look how incredibly confidently straight I am” presentations go, Queen of the Damnedmanages to still be absolutely flamboyant AF. Goth subculture has always been home for many a queer, and while I was still deep in the ‘baby’ of my ‘baby dyke’ phase in high school, Lestat strutting around all smokey-eyed out and tight clothing clad did stir a little something in me. Also, let’s be real, try as you might, are you really gonna play it off that Marius captured Lestat to bite him, keep him strapped to the bed, and lavish him with decadence all as a friendly bro? “And they were roommates.” Sure, Jan.

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I don’t know how to describe the specific meaning it holds, but when I tell people “This is my Twilight,” they get it. As time goes on, it’s even more of a meaningful watch for the real snapshot of that particular scene I belonged to. I had the pleasure of showing it to my equally reformed mallgoth partner recently, and she ate it up (thank goodness, the wedding can still proceed). The crucial part of Queen of the Damned’s sustained relevance, however, truly comes in the final third—sort of the ‘Godzilla’ of the movie, waiting the whole runtime just for the kaiju smashing. That’s the absolutely divine Aaliyah as the titular vampire monarch.

Also Read: Lestat and His Pets: A Look At ‘Interview With The Vampire’ (2022)

I don’t care where you find yourself on the Cinema spectrum. Her first appearance is enthralling. Alongside the way she devours (literally) the scene, outacting and outshining every single other body in that movie, the image of a Black woman coming to the space of her ostensible progeny, now fully colonized by a whiteness that is both fearful and unwelcoming, and burning it all down with a hungry and lustful glee cannot be overstated. Vampires have for so long been overwhelmingly presented to us as white, decadent Europeans. While I love Miss Rice, her work was no stranger to hiccuping an approach to race. This one scene manages to hold such power all these years later, that it’s such a damn shame the entire movie wasn’t solely about Akasha.  

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And the reason Akasha is as memorable as she is 100% all due to the iconic Aaliyah, who was a huge horror fan and loved vampires to begin with. A monarch of R&B already at 22, she brought not only a truly glamorous and regal air to this role, fully embodying the ruler of the undead, but she also brought all her passion to Akasha. You can see she’s enjoying the hell out of every second she’s on-screen with how much she radiates. No one else could have shined with such terrifying grace.  

Also Read: Anne Rice, Iconic Horror Novelist, Dies At Age 80

I’m an avid Letterboxd user, and my favorite review for Queen of the Damned belongs to Vilu, who writes “Someone: this movie actually sucks. Me: but it slaps every time bitch!!”  No truer words were spoken. But scrolling through reviews, it’s actually common to find a lot of people have similar memories and reactions as I do. The early 2000s nu-metal goth scene was so ridiculous, but lovingly so, and was monumentally formative for so many of us.

Here’s to hoping more and more people take note, even latecomers; if nu-metal can feel fun and cool again in a “this was a joke at first but I’m actually super into it” manner, why not resurrect and elevate the Queen to her rightful place? Of course, with how fast the internet moves, by the time I finish writing this, it may already have its comeuppance, in which case I’ll happily shell out my pay for this article on a dope XXL long sleeve with Aaliyah’s fanged visage.

Note: A few days after writing this sentence, I did in fact find a really amazing new graphic tee with Akasha in beautiful neon, and will now sleep in it forever.

Tags: Queen of the Damned

Categorized: Editorials

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